The Autumn Newsletter has now been published and is available to download.
By Jacqui Boulton
Many of you have been asking about the situation in Freetown. As I write it is just over a week since the tragic mudslide took place and the 7-day period of mourning declared in its wake has come to an end. One of my colleagues in country reports that 492 bodies have been buried, with hundreds still missing and thousands of people displaced. We have heard from staff at the Shepherds Hospice and from other friends and colleagues in country. All are safe but many have lost members of their extended family.
The main area affected was Regent, a settlement to the east of Freetown on a back road which links the former Hospice building with Freetown (thus I have often travelled through it). During the civil war the majority of the population were forced into Freetown and there are many densely populated settlements like this on the margins, especially congregating around rivers of course. Many dwellings are made of corrugated iron and mud bricks housing large families who would all have been sleeping. You may also have seen on the news some larger brick built homes. These are relatively recent, as things were starting to improve for the country prior to Ebola.
There has also been an extensive road renovation/tarmacking/widening scheme through Regent and surrounds. The former road mentioned was a ‘mud’ track prior to my last visit in 2016. Some are linking this excavation to the disaster but CNN reports a 300-fold increase in rainfall since the start of the rainy season. Whatever the cause the impact is massive and likely to worsen as the country has once again been gripped by grief. Just as the shoots of recovery from war were apparent the horror of Ebola quickly strangled them.
In the words of the President, “Hundreds of our unsuspecting compatriots were swept away from their sleep onto untimely deaths. They all had their plans for the next day; they had their hopes and aspirations for a bright future like the six innocent children who went to study in the home of one of their brightest colleagues; like the young man who was due to get married tomorrow.”
In the words of a colleague, Sandra Lako, “A mum came to the clinic with her 6 week old. With great sorrow she told us that her husband and mother died in the flooding. She is now a widow and her child will never know his father. On Saturday I met a lady whose family slept in their new home in Regent for the first time on the eve of the disaster. Early Monday morning the lady, her husband and their one-year-old went to their former house to get the last belongings. By the time they returned to Regent the landslide had taken place. Their 12 and 4-year-old children died in the mudslide. They never saw them again. There is so much grief. Yet the resilience of the Sierra Leoneans is remarkable. Time after time they demonstrate that even in a crisis, they press on. They stand together. They smile. They are courageous. They are kind.”
A more positive legacy of Ebola has been a greatly heightened awareness and acceptance of the way in which disease is spread. It is only half way through the rainy season and the threat of cholera, typhoid, and dysentery from contaminated water will be growing, wells are scarce and taps even more so! Please pray for those bereaved. For the Staff at Connaught hospital and mortuary and all those involved in the response including the United Methodist church which is very active. For the small number of survivors who are being cared for at the Connaught and for the safety of the hundreds currently in shelters who have suffered huge losses of family and friends as well as property.
In January 2016 two of the trustees, Jacqui Bolton and Esther Walker, were able to visit The Shepherd’s Hospice. Jacqui combined this visit with her role as part of the Kings College Team who are based at The Connaught Hospital in Freetown.
This was an important visit coming at the end of a deeply traumatic time for Sierra Leone. The Ebola epidemic was thankfully almost over when we visited but restrictions still applied to movement and care of people and the effects of this dreadful time were palpable. We heard from staff about their experiences of responding in the Ebola crisis.
The Shepherd’s Hospice had helped establish testing and holding centres, provided education to local communities and the formation of a burial team. Sierra Leone lost 5% of its doctors to Ebola and 221 trained healthcare workers. It is still coming to terms with the impact of this disease. To this end we hoped our visit would provide some encouragement to Gabriel and his team.
It was also an important opportunity for us as Trustees of UKTFSH to assess the situation and the services that the current team can provide. No home visiting of the sick was allowed during the Ebola crisis and therefore the team continue to focus their efforts on running a clinic to identify patients with HIV/AIDS/TB, providing laboratory testing and helping people access treatment.
During our visit we worked alongside our nursing colleagues in the clinic and undertook a number of visits to local hospitals, facilitated by Jacqui’s links to the Kings team. This was an opportunity for Esther to demonstrate palliative care to the team and try to establish links with hospitals that might continue to refer to the team. More formal ‘classroom’ teaching was also undertaken, particularly focusing on pain assessment, management and the use of morphine.
We also visited the new site for the hospice in Macdonald village and were able to see work progressing. We met with the architect, builder and team to discuss the services they hope to provide and look at the facilities. It was enjoyable to be able to contribute some suggestions at this stage.
The Shepherd’s Hospice is at a crucial stage for the future development of services and we hope in the years to come to revisit and find a new hospice building providing palliative care services.